A fishing net made of gold-coloured threads hangs at the centre of Exhibit 320 gallery, drawing viewers towards it, similar to how jewellery showrooms entice buyers with their glittery precious treasures, placed at their glass entrance. A tall curtain length, cream-coloured jamdani cotton panel hangs from the ceiling in another corner of the gallery, replete with the words “Nobody Bought Anybody’s Silence”. Shedding light on the fading art of jamdani weaving, these socially engaging and emotionally charged works comprise Bangladeshi artist Yasmin Jahan Nupur’s latest solo “Patterns of a Textile Score”.
Nupur’s fascination with textiles and threads can be traced back to her childhood memories of watching her mother embroider. As she grew up, the centuries-old jamdani weaving, with its origins in Dhaka, piqued her interest and led her to explore its history, its community and the material. The 39-year-old artist has lent it a voice through her art and the 12 artworks on display appear to be a step in that direction. Having worked with textiles for over 10 years, Nupur has employed jamdani weavers at her studio in Dhaka since 2006, bought five looms in the process, and observed the life of the weavers closely.
Most of them have now quit and switched to alternate professions. “The weavers don’t like this profession anymore. There are so many other professions where they can earn quick money and they often shift jobs to the garment and shoe industry. Weaving takes a lot of time,” she says. I Like To Wait, a neon light wall installation comprising these very words, is an ode to the time-consuming process of
Resembling floor tile patterns and kaleidoscopic Islamic architecture of the shrines and old palaces, Nupur paints the square grids of a graph-like paper with watercolours. These network of squares on graph are used by weavers to outlay their designs. The 23 paintings that are part of her series “Patterns of a Tactile Score”, replicate the floral and geometric motifs hand-picked from jamdani patterns.
“These are patterns I photograph and later paint on my canvas. They all might look similar but are not. Most of the patterns are geometric and based on counts, like a mathematical pattern. It is interesting to note that a majority of the weavers I worked with are not educated yet they can weave the designs,” she says. Manifesto is a black feather-light and sheer cotton jamdani, appearing like a dupatta hanging from the ceiling, interspersed with heavy patterns of silver yarn.
A look at the muslin pieces on display in the Asian section at the British Museum in London, in 2015, led Nupur to take up the cause of the weaving technique more fiercely. “It made me happy and unhappy at the same time. Here I was proudly looking at my nation’s history in a foreign museum but at a craft that is fast disappearing,” she says, adding, “I am also working with social and political issues through my works, like how weavers don’t get proper pay for their hard work. It’s like a long chain of corruption.”
Talking about its rich history, and how muslin weaving was nurtured in the Mughal workshops held in most villages in Dhaka, Nupur says, “During the Mughal period, weavers made muslin for the royals and the elite. They competed over how thin they could make their fabric. Many weavers still hold such competitions today.”